SEIU hospital decertification vote set for Friday

Hospital employees carried picket signs in front of St. Joseph's Medical Center for two hours Tuesday to protest the hospital's business ties to O'Connor Woods, a north Stockton retirement community with which the employees' union has an ongoing dispute.

The hospital workers, members of Service Employees International Union United Healthcare Workers-West, used their breaks and lunch hours to join the picket line along California Street in front of the Stockton hospital. The union members said they wanted to show their solidarity with the workers at O'Connor Woods, members of the same union who have been trying to get a labor contract for about two years.

"Our administration has unfortunately been involved with O'Connor Woods management. (Hospital President) Don Wiley doesn't think there is anything he can do. We want to send a message to the administration that we don't put up with these kinds of antics, that our managers stop working at O'Connor Woods," said Martha Vazquez, a radiology technician who has worked at St. Joseph's the past 15 years.

SEIU-UHW is apparently turning up the pressure this week because of a planned decertification vote Friday by the 210 eligible workers at O'Connor Woods that, if approved, would no longer give the union authority to represent the workers. To date, the union and O'Connor Woods have not agreed on a labor contract calling for higher wages and changes in health benefits.

A hospital spokeswoman said St. Joseph's only relationship with O'Connor Woods is through a contractual agreement to provide payroll, accounting, personnel, information technology and fund-development services.

"We don't direct or manage their operations or work force or their management. It is strictly a management agreement," the hospital's Natalie Pettis said. Wiley was unavailable for comment Tuesday, she said.

During the two-hour protest, no one from hospital management came outside to talk with the picketing employees, according to the union.

In a public statement issued Friday, Bishop Stephen Blaire of the Catholic Diocese of Stockton urged O'Connor Woods management to "negotiate without delay" a labor contract if workers vote Friday to keep the union.

"If they decide otherwise, that decision must be respected: Catholic teaching respects their decision," Blaire said.

O'Connor Woods CEO Scot Sinclair said he shared the bishop's statement with employees and residents.

"I fully support the bishop's statements. It's how we've been acting, and I certainly believe and follow the guidelines the bishop sets forth," Sinclair said.

As for the pickets outside the midtown hospital Tuesday, Sinclair said: "I'm surprised they would try to bring St. Joseph's in, because St. Joseph's doesn't have any control over things at O'Connor Woods. They don't have any interest in how things are operated out here."

In a written statement, SEIU-UHW said "essentially O'Connor Woods and St. Joseph's are the same employer."

The union said the link between the hospital and the retirement community, which was founded by St. Joseph's but separated more than a decade ago when the hospital affiliated with Catholic Healthcare West, is through Dominican Sisters of San Rafael. According to Katherine Martin, communications director for the Catholic order, Dominican Sisters is "not the employer" for either institution.

"They both have boards of trustees, and that's who is responsible. One hundred years ago, the sisters owned and operated institutions, but that's not true anymore. While the spirit of what they founded lives in today's institutions, it is not a legal relationship any longer. It has nothing to do with making any management decisions," Martin said.

"I'm sorry that the union has chosen to drag the name of a perfectly respectable organization into this," said Don Gerber, 77, a seven-year resident of O'Connor Woods who has closely followed the labor dispute and has been critical of the union's tactics.

Gerber, a former Bay Area resident, moved with his wife to O'Connor Woods because of its affordable housing for seniors.


UAW locals set Ford strike captains, picketers

Contract talks between Ford Motor Co. and the United Auto Workers union broke off in the early hours of Wednesday morning after a marathon session that began Tuesday morning, a source familiar with the talks said. The negotiations for a new four-year contract were expected to resume later Wednesday.

Contract talks between Ford and the UAW for its 58,500 Ford members have picked up pace this week, after the union wrapped up deals with General Motors Corp and Chrysler LLC. Negotiations intensified on Tuesday, with "some activity" expected in the next two days, a person familiar with the talks said on Tuesday.

The person, who asked to not be identified due to the confidential nature of the talks, declined to say if the activity "within the next 48 hours" would be a strike or settlement. A Ford spokeswoman declined to comment on the talks. A UAW spokesman did not return calls for comment.

Another person familiar with the talks said UAW President Ron Gettelfinger on Tuesday joined other negotiators at the bargaining table -- a sign talks were moving to their final stage.

Ford and the union have been in talks "constantly for the past few months," the UAW's chief negotiator for Ford, Bob King, said earlier this month.

He also said the union was looking for "the same things" in the contract that it sought from GM and Chrysler, such as product investment and retiree healthcare.

Working-level negotiators from Ford and the UAW even met at the automaker's Dearborn, Michigan, headquarters over the weekend.

But bargaining on some of the main issues between Ford and the union had not begun before Tuesday since the union leadership, including Gettelfinger, has so far remained focused on the final ratification votes on a tentative labor contract with Chrysler.

Both sides have expressed eagerness to wrap up talks without a strike -- unlike GM and Chrysler, both of which underwent strikes before a tentative deal.

Still, some locals have been preparing workers for a possible strike. UAW Local 2000, which represents 2,050 active workers at an Ohio assembly plant, has assigned picket captains and posted strike instructions on its Web site.

Members of local 245, which represents more than 2,500 workers at various facilities in Dearborn, Michigan, have also been preparing for a strike.


Ford, widely seen as the weakest of the three embattled U.S. automakers, has already made it clear that it will push for deeper concessions from the union than those offered by GM or Chrysler, a position negotiators made clear in early talks.

In addition, Ford has indicated it was looking for about 8,000 to 10,000 additional factory job cuts, one of those briefed on the negotiations said. That would be in addition to the 27,000 UAW jobs Ford had cut as of June.

The automaker, which posted a record loss of $12.6 billion in 2006, has announced plans to close 16 plants as part of its restructuring in North America, although it has not named six of those facilities.

Both sides have said they intend to keep the basic framework of the deals reached with GM and Chrysler.

Both settlements established a trust known as a Voluntary Employees Beneficiary Association, or VEBA, that would take over responsibility for retiree health care.


Did pro-union Congressman foul a union election?

A Virginia nonprofit association filed legal papers with the National Labor Relations Board on Monday supporting Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino's appeal of a June board recommendation that casino dealers have union representation.

The Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation submitted a "friend of the court" brief that took issue with conduct leading up to a March election in which dealers voted 324-149 for representation by the United Auto Workers. Echoing Trump Plaza's claims, the group argued that the union's use of political support misled casino employees.

Both parties' claims center on a press conference the UAW held one week before the election. The union invited U.S. Rep. Robert Andrews, D-1st, state Sen. James "Sonny" McCullough, R-Atlantic, and Assemblyman James Whelan, D-Atlantic, to a "card-check" ceremony in which it counted pledge cards signed by employees in support of unionization. The group aimed to show that Trump Plaza should recognize its workers' interest in organizing.

The event, broadcast that night on WMGM-TV40, became the main tenet of an April objection Trump Plaza filed with the board, seeking a new election. The casino said the broadcast could have led employees to believe that election results favoring the union were a foregone conclusion supported by the government. An administrative law judge at the board's Philadelphia office dismissed Trump Plaza's objection. The casino filed an exception, or appeal, in Washington, D.C., in July, where it has remained unsettled.

The foundation had filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the UAW a day before the election, seeking postponement. That charge is being resolved together with Trump Plaza's objection.

The foundation's brief mentioned only Rep. Andrews. It claimed that as employees understood Andrews was part of the federal government, they could have also believed his participation had the legal effect of designating the UAW as their representative under federal law.

The foundation implored the board to honor Trump Plaza's appeal.

"Otherwise, politicians can (and will) use the authority of their office to mislead employees that the government requires or favors a particular result in Board certification elections," it wrote.

The foundation, which provides free legal aid to employees whose rights have been "violated by abuses of compulsory unionism," said it had not filed papers until now because of the volume of cases it handles.

The group denied any ties to Trump Plaza. Friend of the court briefs can be submitted by parties who are not directly involved in litigation but believe they have an interest in its outcome.

Neither Trump Plaza nor the UAW returned calls seeking comment.


AFSCME wants its foxes to guard the hen house

One of the closest races of 2003 elections in Duluth (MN) was the City Council 1st District race between Laurie Johnson and Todd Fedora — decided, as Fedora will quickly tell you, by 477 votes.

Though Fedora, 42, was on the losing end of the vote, he threw his hat in the ring one more time against Johnson, 52. This time, Fedora’s campaign message has forced Johnson to defend herself against charges that her job as a staff representative with the American Federation of State Council and Municipal Employees poses a direct conflict of interest with serving on the City Council. AFSCME is the largest labor union of Duluth city employees.

It has led to possibly the most combative of all the City Council races. “I’m not being critical. I think it’s a fact,” said Fedora, who is vice president of commercial banking at M&I bank at 2501 London Road. “It would be irresponsible not to point that out to people.”

The perception of a conflict gets Johnson bashed on some Internet message boards, while one city councilor openly questions Johnson’s motives.

“It’s like having the fox watch the hen house,” said Jim Stauber, who doesn’t believe any AFSCME employees should be able to serve on the City Council. “We have such control over wages and benefits [of the city], it would routinely be a conflict of interest.”

But Johnson fired back, saying that Fedora and others are creating a false hysteria, noting that she has abstained from voting when she felt there would be a conflict.

“I represent workers, many of whom are my constituents,” she said. “Yet when I ask people where is the conflict — where does it lie? — they don’t seem to have an answer.”

“If that’s the worst people can say about me, I’ll gladly take that criticism,” she said.

Johnson might not have helped her cause with a campaign questionnaire she filled out for AFSCME, which Fedora got ahold of and released to the public. Under the question: “How many votes will you need to win?” Johnson responded: “To be sure, my campaign committee is aiming at no less than 4,001 votes. This will not only ensure my victory but permanently eliminate Todd Fedora from electoral politics.”

Johnson said that the wording of the response was too strong.

“That wasn’t the intent of it,” said Johnson, who calls Fedora’s release of the document “dirty politics.”

“I did not decide to run again, put together a staff, put all this time and energy into a race not to get re-elected,” she said. “[Voters] need to know I came to win this race. I want the outcome that I’m elected and he’s eliminated.”

When she’s not on the defensive, Johnson, who is endorsed by the labor unions, the Duluth DFL and Progressive Action Duluth, tries to promote her voting record on the council, including support of environmental issues, the Lakewalk extension and working to create more living-wage jobs.

She also tries to relate to voters on a personal level, something that helped win her the election four years ago.

“I bring in different experiences as a wife, mother and grandmother,” she said. “I can relate to people on different levels with all the experience that I have.”

Fedora, who has neither sought nor received any endorsements and describes himself as “socially moderate and fiscally conservative,” also has been campaigning on the message that City Hall needs to be more responsible with taxpayers’ money.

“There have been decisions made over the last several years that have occurred with a gross disregard for people living in the city,” he said. “I hope what it will come down to is people will select a candidate who will best protect all our interests, who will question how our funds are being allocated, and who will make the rational, reasonable objective decisions — not only for the 1st District, but for the whole city.”


Boeing eyes future beyond union-friendly NW

While parts for Boeing's new 787 "Dreamliner" are manufactured around the world, Washington elected officials should keep a close eye on South Carolina.

Vought Aircraft and Global Aeronautica, located at the Charleston International Airport, now manufactures half the 787's fuselage and state officials want more. Once assembled, the aft section is loaded on an enlarged 747 called the "Dreamlifter" and flown directly to Everett. Those facilities are brand new with the latest technology. They are striking evidence of South Carolina's manufacturing surge initiative - and state officials want more Boeing business.

South Carolina positioned itself to be part of the 787 project from the beginning. In 2003, when Boeing reviewed sites for the final assembly plant, South Carolina state leaders fought hard to win a big chunk of that business.

As Boeing's historic home base, Washington had an advantage with facilities and a trained workforce in place; however, because of our higher taxes and business costs, our state barely landed the final assembly plant.

Officials in both states understand that Boeing facilities attract not only large prime contractors like Vought Aircraft and Global Aeronautica, but also thousands of smaller subcontractors who provide family-wage jobs. Since airplane components can be manufactured or assembled anywhere in the world, Boeing suppliers do not have to be in Washington to work on the 787.

S. Carolina an attractive locale

Washington state lawmakers should keep that in mind. Depending on their actions, South Carolina could look better than ever to companies with operations in our state.

For example, Washington's unemployment insurance costs for employers are five times higher than South Carolina. According to the 2008 WashACE Redbook survey, South Carolina's UI rates average $154 per employee compared to Washington's average of $803. In fact, Washington has the second highest UI rates in the nation, and the employer pays the entire tax.

In 2003, then-Boeing commercial airplane President Alan Mulally told legislators Washington had the highest unemployment costs of anyplace Boeing does business. It was a message echoed by our state's other employers.

As part of the state's effort to win the 787 assembly plant, the Washington Legislature approved unemployment insurance reforms. But in 2005, lawmakers, under pressure from the unions, backtracked on those reforms. Next January, they may have to revise their most recent UI compromise because the U.S. Department of Labor ruled those changes don't comply with federal law.

If those changes result in higher unemployment costs to employers, Washington will be less competitive since employers absorb all UI charges. Costs matter today more than ever.

South Carolina's lower business taxes are another lure for Washington manufacturers. For example, South Carolina ranks 34th in the nation, with private employers paying 42 percent of state and local taxes. Washington ranks 8th highest, with our private employers paying 53 percent.

Finally, South Carolina is a right-to-work state. That means workers are not forced to join the union. As a result, union membership there is among the lowest in the nation. Washington ranks fifth highest.

If lawmakers pass the so-called "union neutrality" bill, it could force Boeing contractors to reconsider their decision to stay in Washington. That bill would severely limit employers' ability to counter union organizing campaigns in the workplace.

If a company did not comply, it would have to repay the incentives authorized by the Legislature to entice those very companies to build manufacturing plants in our state. It makes South Carolina, which is investing heavily in training, research and providing incentives, look even more attractive.

What does all of this mean?

Since the closure of the Charleston Naval Base, South Carolina has aggressively pursued growth, economic development and new jobs. Washington state leaders cannot be complacent. Just because Boeing and its suppliers are here today, doesn't mean they will be tomorrow.

They have too many other choices - and too many states and foreign countries covet these family-wage jobs in today's highly competitive global economy. Remember, Boeing has the fleet of oversized 747's to haul large components of its aircraft from anywhe re in the world.


Feds charge UAW official with embezzlement

The financial secretary of the United Auto Workers local 1516 in Middletown (DE) has been indicted by a federal grand jury on 12 embezzlement charges. According to prosecutors, Stephen Priest stole over $97,800 from the union that represents 200 employees at Johnson Controls for personal use between Sept. 2005 and May 2006.

Union officials could not be reached for comment.

According to court papers, Priest was in charge of paying bills for the union, depositing checks into union accounts and maintaining the local’s financial records. Assistant U.S. Attorney Shannon T. Hanson charges Priest, who was authorized to co-sign union checks, wrote 57 unauthorized checks payable to himself and forged the signature of the union president on them.

Court papers allege Priest also wrote checks to pay his own bills – including those for a cell phone, the power company, car payments and several credit card accounts – again by forging the union president’s signature.

Priest is set to appear in court to hear the charges on Nov. 1. The court docket did not indicate if he has retained an attorney. If convicted, Priest faces up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine for each of the 12 counts plus restitution to the union.


Firefighters pump cash into local PA politics

The International Association of Firefighters Local 291 is getting more involved in politics this year than it has in the past. The Lancaster branch of IAFF 291 has chosen to support 13 candidates in the upcoming election, union representative KJ Watts said.

It's not unusual for the firefighters' organization to endorse candidates in an election. But this year is different.

IAFF 291 has donated more to candidates this year than in the past, Watts said. They've donated an estimated $7,200 to 13 candidates, according to campaign finance reports filed last week with the Fairfield County Board of Elections.

The IAFF hasn't had the funds in years past to donate to as many candidates as it did this year, Watts said. The organization raised funds from within. "Traditionally, the Republican slate has not found favor with the labor organizations," said Fairfield County Republican Executive Committee Chairman Steve Davis.

"It puts Republicans in a good position to win the election." Lancaster's Republicans do not have a very large margin over Democrats, Davis said. The margin is much higher in Fairfield County than the city.

The average campaign donation in Lancaster is $100, Davis said.

The limit for campaign contributions made by IAFF to a local candidate is $10,670 per election campaign, as stated on the Ohio Secretary of State's Web site, www.sos.state.oh.us.

Davis said the organization's decision to donate so much to local campaigns this year is a change in Lancaster.

Former firefighters have been the only candidates to get financial support in the past.

And the amounts have never been as great as they are this year.

Lancaster Mayor Dave Smith said he doesn't think political party affiliation affected how the IAFF decided which candidates to support this year.

The organization endorsed Smith, a Republican for mayor. His challenger, City Councilman Jerry Woodgeard, is a Democrat.

Smith was interviewed by an IAFF committee. The committee members debated which candidate to endorse.

"I just think they liked my answers," Smith said.

The IAFF chooses to endorse for positions that will affect Lancaster's firefighters, Watts said.

Smith and Lancaster City Council determine the fire department's budget.


Union bosses victimized Down Under

Confronted by a resurgent Opposition and persistently poor opinion polls, the federal government has responded by targeting the Labor Party's links to the union movement. The premise of this campaign is simple: paint trade unions as mindless economic vandals, and the Labor Party as beholden to them. Fear among the electorate will do the rest.

The business lobby paid for a similar media onslaught in the weeks leading up to the election campaign. One commercial featured an abandoned store with the slogan 'CLOSED DOWN DUE TO UNION BOSSES' daubed in paint on the front window. Another depicted three heavy-set blokes in archetypically working-class clobber storming into a workplace and switching off the lights as a prelude to imposing iron-fisted industrial tyranny.

Now the Howard government is asserting that 70 per cent of a potential Rudd Labor frontbench would be comprised of 'anti-business' union apparatchiks. 'Anti-business' is code for 'bad for jobs, interest rates, and inflation'. In other words, elect Labor and you elect the union movement; elect the union movement and the country goes down the economic drain.

This campaign evokes the 'bad old days' of the BLF and the Ship Painters and Dockers Union, of Norm Gallagher and Craig Johnson. Never mind that an ‘anti-business' union official is, in fact, an oxymoron. Or that it was a Labor state government that deregistered the BLF. Or that it was the Hawke-Keating Labor government that began the process of industrial deregulation that first allowed unions to be sidelined, and has lead the nation directly to Workchoices. Fear speaks louder than history.

It is thus tempting to dismiss the Howard government campaign as an empty propaganda exercise. Except for the fact that it actually does a grave disservice to the union movement and the role it has played in creating a system, unique among industrialised nations, that balances the profit imperative against the right to dignity in employment.

Anyone who has spent any time working in the union movement knows it too well to succumb to sentimentalism. Unions are flawed, like any human institution. They have their share of corrupt, incompetent, and irresponsible officials. But the same is equally true of business and politics. The Costigan Royal Commission, which started life investigating organised crime on the waterfront, ended up exposing the corrupt financial practices then flourishing in the boardrooms of corporate Australia.

More relevantly, the trade union movement has been responsible for the progressive improvement of working conditions in Australia since before Federation. From the initiation of the eight-hour day movement in 1856, to the Living Wage test cases of the recent past, unions have sought to create working conditions that not only enable ordinary citizens to earn a living, but which uphold their dignity as human beings.

And it has frequently done so in the face of bitter opposition from both business and government. Business has always asserted its right to determine employment conditions, with only 'market pressures' to ensure humane outcomes. Government has more than once argued against improved employment conditions on the grounds they would make Australia's economy less competitive. But the truth of this nation's socio-economic history is that our robust economy and advanced living standards have been built on a foundation whose cornerstone is active participation by the union movement. Remove that cornerstone, and the foundation collapses.

And the foundations are collapsing. Australians may be wealthier than ever before, but they are also more stressed, more insecure, working longer hours, and acutely conscious of the absence of quality of life. And it is union officials who are frequently on the pointy end of this dichotomy, helping employees cope with their grief and rage when they fall victim to the vicissitudes of the globalised economy.

Far from being industrial thugs, union officials are all too often the only support mechanism standing between stressed Australian workers and human tragedy.

Christ taught that the labourer was worthy of the hire. Implicit in this teaching is the assertion of human dignity over considerations of profit. By resorting to stereotypes in its quest for electoral survival, the Howard government improperly denies the dignity and humanity that are the ongoing endeavour of trade unionism itself.


Teamsters honor California assemblyman

State Assemblyman Anthony Portantino D - La Canada Flintridge has been named "Freshman of the Year" by the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges. Portantino, who chairs the Assembly's Higher Education Committee, received the award before the Association's annual conference in Pasadena.

"California's community colleges play a critical role in our higher education system. Students looking for careers and those on their way to four-year universities are looking to community college in record numbers and those institutions are responding tremendously under very difficult economic times," Portantino said. "It's a tremendous honor to be recognized by FACCC and I look forward to continuing to work with faculty, students, and administrators during my time in office."

Citing his diligence as Chair of the Assembly Higher Education Committee on behalf of faculty and students,

The Teamsters Joint Council 42 Political Screening Committee also notified Portantino on his selection as "2007 Legislator of the Year." Citing his commitment to working families and their issues, Joint Council 42 President Jim Santangelo notified Portantino of his selection.

The award will be presented to Assemblymember Portantino on December 7th at the Joint Council's delegate meeting. Teamsters Joint Council 42 is the parent body to 23 Teamster Local Unions located and representing members in Southern California, Southern Nevada, Guam, Saipan, and Hawaii.


Teachers' union in cat-and-mouse game with kids, parents

Today marks the first day Palatine-Schaumburg (IL) High School District 211 teachers could legally strike. Most indications are that won't actually happen today.

But with no formal negotiations scheduled right now and contingency plans in place by the districts, here are answers to some frequently asked questions about what a strike in the state's largest high school district could mean:

Q. What is the problem here?

A. In a word: money. The teachers feel they sacrificed when agreeing in 2005 to the current deal -- it lacks a base-pay increase for this school year -- and are under-appreciated. The district contends that through so-called step increases for years of service and other perks, teachers have a lucrative deal.

The district's last offer was for one year at a 2.5 percent base-pay raise, which officials have said is fair to teachers and to taxpayers. But the union rejected it, seeking a 3.8 percent base-pay raise with lump sum payments to bring it to a 4.1 percent.

Q. When could teachers start a strike?

A. In theory, it could happen today. And the union has given power to its bargaining team to authorize a strike, so no further vote is required. However, union Vice President Jason Spoor said Monday that a strike isn't an "immediate concern."

Also, the union has scheduled pickets for after-school hours Thursday and Friday at district headquarters in Palatine. Presumably, teachers will picket at all the buildings during school hours if a strike begins.

The teachers' next payday is Wednesday and those paychecks will be withheld if a strike happens before then, District 211 Assistant Superintendent David Torres said.

Q. How will students and parents know if a strike has been called? What will happen in the short-term?

A. Though not legally obligated, unions often give districts some sort of notice to better prepare the community, said Illinois Federation of Teachers spokesman Dave Comerford.

District 211 officials said that if a strike starts, classes will immediately be canceled, as will most campus activities, dependent on what staff show up for work.

The district's Web site would post updates, and the district advises parents to call the district which would have its announcement hotline updated, just as if classes were canceled because of the weather. If the district gets enough notice, it will call off bus drivers. If not, any students dropped off at school during the first strike day would be bused back home in a "prompt manner."

Q. How long could a strike last?

A. It could be as short as a day or could take months.

Comerford of the Illinois Federation of Teachers said, in his experience, the average teacher strikes in Illinois last about a week. One of the longest was in downstate North Greene Unified Elementary District 3, where teachers went on strike around Labor Day in 1997 and didn't return to class until after Thanksgiving, Comerford said.

Q. How would the district make up missed school dates?

A. School days could be tacked onto the end of the year so classes extend into the summer. But that's something else the district and union to must agree on during contract talks. Teachers and administrators bickered over how school would made up during contract talks in 2001 in downstate Granite City, Comerford recalls. What should have been a two-week strike extended to a month because of the issue, Comerford said.

Q. What happens to other school employees?

A. All nonunion staff are required to be "productive and working for their full work day," according to a staffwide e-mail sent by district administrators last week. District officials say anyone who shows up for work will be paid -- including union members -- and work will be found for them to do.

Q. What gives the teachers the right to strike?

A. Teachers were given the legal right strike under 1984's Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act. Both sides must first try to work out their differences with a federal mediation, which in District 211 occurred on Oct. 9, and declare an impasse.

The union also has to file intent-to-strike papers, as the District 211 union did on Oct. 19. That set in motion a 10-day waiting period before a strike could be called.


Police union boss rips overpaid garbage workers

Veteran New York City sanitation workers earn nearly $9,000 more than longtime police officers, a disparity unmatched throughout the country, a police union head claimed yesterday.

Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch said that between 2004 and 2006 — the span for which the PBA is still seeking a contract — the city listed $57,392 as the basic maximum pay for tenured sanitation workers. But due to a $42 per shift collection and dumping bonus, those workers actually earned $68,354, or $8,766 more during that period than police officers, who earned a top pay of $59,588.

“This is not an attack on New York City sanitation workers,” Lynch said at the PBA’s Fulton Street headquarters. “[But] New York City is the only city in America that pays the people collecting household garbage more than the people who risk their lives fighting crime and the real threat of terrorism.”

Lynch said the pay gap between the NYPD and surrounding police departments such as Suffolk County has forced roughly 1,000 trained cops to leave the NYPD in recent years.

Mayoral spokesman Jason Post said the difference in pay between police officers and sanitation workers is a matter of bargaining.

“The question PBA members should be asking isn’t why sanitation workers make more than them; it’s easily answered because the sanitation union has come to the table and negotiated raise after raise,” Post said. “The real question is why the PBA is content being left behind by police sergeants, detectives and captains who all received 28 percent increases over the same period with no productivity enhancements?”


Teacher strike blame game hits student-athletes

With postseason dreams of athletes in Schaumburg-Palatine (IL) High School District 211 still hanging in the balance, the teachers union and administrators lined up Tuesday to throw barbs. In the event of a teacher strike, district officials said Monday they'd allow athletes in IHSA postseason tournaments to play, reversing an earlier decision.

The caveat is that in order to oversee a practice or game, coaches must show up for the regular work if they also want to fulfill their coaching duties, the district says.

Union President John Braglia scoffed at that. He said union members who are coaches will still coach - but won't cross the picket lines to report for teaching duty. "They will not be teaching a full day if there is a strike," he said. "Our coaches will report and work the strike-line in the event we go out."

How this might resolve itself if a strike is called - and how the district will enforce its stance - is unclear.

Braglia asserted that the district will "try anything," ranging from sending athletes home on buses to getting the police involved.

"That's the way this board works," he said.

Superintendent Roger Thornton said it will be up to each school's principal and athletic director to enforce the policy. But he said police wouldn't be called in to assist.

Braglia said Thornton and the school board would be to blame for any canceled games.

Thornton volleyed, saying the union was to blame. He compared the situation to a student who fails to attend class but wants to participate in an after-school activity.

"There is no way people should be able to go on strike all day and then come in and coach," Thornton said.

School board President Robert LeFevre was a member of the 1984 Fremd High School soccer state championship team. He said he feels for student-athletes because those games are once-in-lifetime opportunities that can't be rescheduled.

He supports the district's policy of requiring a team's full coaching staff present, citing safety reasons. He also agrees with Thornton that the coaches should be required to work a full day.

Coaching is but one piece of their job responsibilities, LeFevre noted.

Several District 211 fall sports team remain in contention for state titles, including the Fremd and Palatine varsity football teams.


Steelworkers take dues hit as Texas plant closes

Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. informed union officials at its Tyler plant on Tuesday that it will stop producing tires there in January. Jim Wansley, president of United Steelworkers Local 746L, said the union received a worker adjustment relocation notice, which is required when the company plans a layoff that involves more than a third of its work force.

"Right now, the impact of what Goodyear has said they intend to do would be over 600 jobs," Wansley said in a story for Tuesday's online edition of the Tyler Morning Telegraph. Wansley said talks would begin Wednesday on the timeline for carrying out Goodyear's plans for the plant and how many jobs will actually exist there. Tire production is expected to cease somewhere between Jan. 1 and Jan. 14.

Workers at the Tyler plant make wholesale private label tires. The plant's fate was a key issue in negotiations of a new contract. The deal worked out in late 2006 after a three-months strike allowed Goodyear to stick with plans to close the plant but provided a one-year transition period during which workers would have the opportunity to take advantage of retirement buyouts.


UFCW set to strike, Kroger to use replacements

Loyal Kroger customers braced for a weekend strike today as the company and its unionized workforce of 11,000 associates showed no change of heart on demands for higher wages, a fully funded pension and more from the company for health care.

Though the company and UFCW 1099 claim they wanted to return to the bargaining table for a renewed round of negotiations, the only movement today came when hundreds of union sympathizers prepared to gather on Fountain Square.

“No way am I going to shop at Kroger if there’s a strike,” said Denise Penn, a 36-year-old College Hill resident and teacher at Douglass School in Walnut Hills. She is a union member of the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers and will find someplace else to buy her groceries. “We union members have to look out for each other.”

But that feeling was not universal. Dave Mahaney, 68, Fort Thomas, could care less about picket signs in front of stores. “It won’t stop me,” he said. “You gotta eat.” In the parking lot outside the Bellevue Kroger, Betty Detmering, 75, said she, too, would keep shopping at Kroger. “It’s close to my home. I’ll be here,” she said.

Kroger company officials also turned up the heat when it distributed a two-page question and answer information sheet that suggested that workers should quit their union if a strike was called.

The memo indicated that workers who resign from their union would keep the same wages, maintain seniority and could cross picket lines.

“I think they’re trying to break the union,” said Audrea Landrum, 68, of Independence, Ky. She is a part-time worker at the Independence store as a bakery helper.

“One young lady I work with is eight months pregnant with her first child. Her husband just got fired from her job and she was told if she didn’t cross the picket line and come to work, she would have no insurance,” Landrum said.

“When I heard that it just made me so angry, and it sure doesn’t show much respect for workers. Already there’s a lot of hurt feelings.”

Contract talks ended Sunday with the union announcing on Monday that a 30-day contract extension would end on Friday at midnight. When that extension ends, the union has been authorized by the rank and file to call a strike. Kroger responded that it would seek replacement workers.

Experts say what’s at stake for the company and its workers if a strike occurs is that some shoppers may venture into a Kroger competitor, enjoy the experience or prices and, suddenly formerly loyal customers find that a stop-gap store has become a favorite.

And if that happens, it may be years before Kroger recovers its marketshare from competitors.

“This is one town Kroger doesn’t want to lose,” said Richard Bales, a labor law expert and professor of law/associate dean for faculty development at the Chase College of Law at Northern Kentucky University.

“If they have homefield advantage, it’s here. The last thing they want is a headline that Wal-Mart is beating them on their home field.”

Union workers will also feel intense pressure as the deadline nears and even greater stress if they go on strike. Household budgets for those workers will be slashed.

“If Kroger is able to bring in strike replacements, it will be painful for workers to see jobs being done by somebody else,” Bales said. “The economy isn’t great, so it’s going to be awfully tempting for folks to cross the picket line and work.

“A strike ratchets up the pressure on both sides.”

Another threat for the company in the event of a strike comes if truck drivers who are members of another union refuse to deliver because of pickets.

“If they’re union, they are likely to honor the picket line,” Bales said. “Kroger then has more difficulty filling its stores and stocking shelves.”

Doug Sizemore, executive secretary treasurer of the Cincinnati AFL-CIO, said there are 130 local unions representing about 100,000 people in the region and those households support the UFCW local.

“Already people are watching this and letting Kroger management know when they go into stores that they’re dissatisfied with the way these negotiations are going,” Sizemore said.

Kroger officials know the stakes are high, too.

Supermarkets such as Kroger make about two cents profit from every dollar spent, which leaves grocers more vulnerable to the whims of broad economic trends and selective consumer spending than many other retailers.

When a two-day strike hit a distribution warehouse near Louisville earlier this year, Dillon told Wall Street investors that it cost the company two cents a share on earnings in the first quarter - about $11 million a day.

Replacement workers were used in that incident.

And a 141-day California lockout in 2004 led to a $947 million write-down for the company.

In the wake of that dispute, Kroger Co. paid $70 million in fines and worker restitution under an agreement stemming from criminal charges that its Ralphs Grocery Co. subsidiary illegally hired workers under fake names.

As part of the deal with federal prosecutors, Ralphs pleaded guilty to conspiracy and identity fraud as well as violating laws involving employee benefits and record-keeping for the Social Security Administration and Internal Revenue Service.

Meghan Glynn, company spokesperson, said Kroger distributed the memos not in an effort to break the union but to inform its workforce that in the event of a strike, company-paid healthcare coverage would cease unless they keep working.

“We have a long relationship with UFCW,” she said. “But actions this union has taken lately, well, we want to make sure our employees have the facts.”

Interviews of replacement workers have occurred. “We have replacement workers ready to go if it comes to that,” Glynn said.


Lay teachers vote to strike, plan sick-out

Teachers at 10 Catholic High Schools through the Hudson Valley and New York City said last night that a recent contract proposal isn't good enough and they'll prepare for a strike.

Members of Lay Teachers Association voted 123-9 not to accept the latest offering from the Archdiocese of New York. Then they voted 121-12 to authorize union leaders to call a strike.

The union includes teachers at John S. Burke Catholic High School in Goshen and Our Lady of Lourdes in Poughkeepsie.

Henry Kielkucki, business manager for the union, said it hasn't set a date for the strike but the next few days will probably bring a "sick out" — a day when all teachers suddenly call in sick — to show the archdiocese they're serious.

Teachers went on a 17-day strike in 2001 and authorized another strike in 2004. That one was averted through renewed negotiations. Kielkucki said 1989 was the only year in the past two decades when contract negotiations didn't include a strike or some sort of school disruption. This year seems headed for the same path, he said


Pittsburgh teachers union prepared to strike

Teachers in the Pittsburgh Public Schools voted to authorize a future strike if a contract deal is not reached. It would be the first time in 30 years teachers would be on the picket lines.

The Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers voted overwhelmingly Monday to authorize a strike. That does not necessarily mean there will be one. Workers have been without a contract since June 30. Sticking points include health benefits, salaries and the length of the school day.

Parent Debra Coleman-Tiller said, "I would hope that they would be able to come to some compromise before we get to the point where they do go on strike." "It's tough on the kids but teachers deserve their just due too. They have a tough job,” parent Dave Boncek said.

Superintendent Mark Roosevelt released this statement: "We remain committed to a settlement that honors the good work of our teachers without endangering the district's financial health or obligating us to raise taxes, which we adamantly oppose doing."

The Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers President John Tarka stated, "This expression of support by the PFT membership for the union's efforts is extremely significant and valuable. PFT members recognize that the PFT's primary objective is to attain agreement with the district without disruption. At the same time, the union leadership must be able to recommend a package for ratification by the membership, and more work needs to be done before that can happen."

Pittsburgh teachers have not gone on strike in 31 years. They are the seventh-highest paid teachers in Allegheny County.

The two sides will meet for another negotiating session at the end of the week. Meanwhile, classes will go on as scheduled Tuesday.


Striking Teamsters welcome attention

They’ve been on the picket line 24 hours a day for the last week. The union employees of the Associated Milk Producers Incorporated plant in Dawson walked off the job at noon on Oct. 23, seeking pay equal to fellow AMPI cheese plants throughout the Midwest.

The union employees are part of the Teamsters Local 120, the largest union in Minnesota. Scott Herrington said the union employees have been taking shifts throughout the last week — day and night.

“We’re hanging in there,” said Herrington on Tuesday. “We’ve just been picketing; we’re picketing 24-7. We have it on four shifts now.” Herrington, who takes an afternoon shift starting at noon, said evening picketers have been doing well. “The night crews have been doing OK,” said Herrington. “That’s when we’re burning more of the wood. The first night was cold, but other than that everyone has been doing OK.”

David Ulrich said it wasn’t an easy decision to strike. “You lose a lot of sleep, you’d rather be in there,” said Ulrich. Ulrich, a union employee at AMPI for the last 14 years, said both sides have been holding firm in their positions. “I think the problem that we’re facing is that both sides are trying to save face,” said Ulrich. “You have to give it the appropriate amount of time. There is a cycle to these things.”

The strike has gained attention throughout this part of the country, with newspapers around the Midwest picking up stories through the Associated Press. Ulrich said it’s good to have attention brought to the strike.

Amanda Engebretson, a union employee at AMPI, said there has been some misunderstanding about certain aspects of the strike.

Engebretson said published reports that the AMPI site in Dawson is the lowest paid of the 15 AMPI locations is incorrect. She said of the five cheese producing locations for AMPI, Dawson is the lowest paid.

“Misinformation is coming out that we’re the lowest paid of the 15 plants,” said Engebretson. “We are not the lowest paid of the 15 plants, we are the lowest paid of five cheese plants. There are several other plants out there. We’re fighting to be more equal with the other cheese plants.”

Ulrich said the strike goes beyond equal pay and benefits, it also goes to the heart of how the employees have been treated at the plant.

“It’s not entirely about pay. There is also a feeling of being treated like second-class citizens,” said Ulrich.

The strike followed a breakdown in negotiations for a new contract between the union and AMPI in early October. Negotiations broke off the weekend of Oct. 20. Last week, AMPI representatives said milk has been diverted to other AMPI locations throughout the Midwest to ensure production continues.

AMPI has 15 plants that produce various dairy products, including cheese.

An attempt to contact AMPI late Tuesday by the Independent was unsuccessful.


Seneca Valley teachers strike drags on

A state mediator has scheduled a meeting between representatives of the Seneca Valley (PA) School District and its striking teachers union for 9:30 a.m. Monday. The location of the bargaining session was not disclosed.

Seneca Valley teachers went on strike Oct. 15 after not being able to agree with the district on wages and health benefits. If the dispute is not settled, the state will require that teachers return to classrooms on Nov. 15.



Hoffa on the spot in corrupt Chicago Teamsters bust-up

An oversight panel has urged the takeover of powerful Chicago Teamsters Local 714, claiming its leaders allowed sham contracts and steered lucrative movie industry jobs in Chicago to relatives. An investigator for the federally mandated Independent Review Board in New York would only confirm Monday that the anti-corruption unit had recommended placing the local under trusteeship.

Officials with Local 714 could not be reached, and Teamsters officials in Washington, D.C., said the union would not comment until Teamsters President James P. Hoffa has made a "final decision." The union would appoint a trustee to oversee the local if Hoffa upholds the report's recommendation. But a copy of the 250-page report obtained by the Teamsters for a Democratic Union, a dissident group within the union, outlines the results of a long probe into the 10,000-member local.

Founded in the Depression by the late William Hogan Sr., the local has operated as a Hogan family dynasty. Its top official is Robert Hogan, and his father, William Hogan Jr., led the local until the review board in 2002 barred him from the union for his role in a plot to drive down wages and benefits of Las Vegas Teamsters. Robert Hogan's uncle, James M. Hogan, is the local's president.

The local allegedly had an "unwritten contract" with officials at several companies which allowed only a certain number of workers to join the union, according to the report. Similarly, the local allegedly looked the other way as non-union workers from labor agencies performed work normally assigned to Teamsters, and local officials did not speak out when workers failed to receive raises guaranteed under contract, the report said.

The local hired a close associate of William Hogan Jr., who continued to have contact with the local's former leader despite the fact union members were barred from associating with him, according to the report.

Dated Aug. 27, the report asks union president Hoffa to let the review board know whatever action he takes.

Ken Paff, head of the Teamsters for a Democratic Union, suggested that the anti-corruption unit would act on its own if Hoffa failed to follow the report's recommendations.

Ed Stier, a former federal prosecutor who had led the union's own clean-up operation, hailed the report, saying it touched on issues his own group had cited three years ago.

But the union's clean-up effort came to a crashing halt in 2004 when Stier's investigators began looking into allegations of wrongdoing among Chicago Teamsters along with mobsters' influence over top Teamsters.

Stier had called for a full-blown probe, but he resigned when union leaders blocked his request to expand his probe.

At the time, Teamsters officials in Washington described allegations raised by Stier investigators as "uncorroborated and unsubstantiated." A follow-up report by another former federal prosecutor, commissioned by the union, discounted the allegations of mob links to union officials.

"I'm glad to see that the IRB is pursuing these corruption issues in Chicago," Stier said on Monday, adding "I think there is more to do."

The review board was created as a result of a 1989 federal court consent agreement between the union and government that was meant to clean up corruption within the Teamsters' ranks.


Teamsters set to enforce Hollywood picket lines

The Teamsters union - representing more than 4,000 Hollywood drivers, location managers and scouts, casting directors and animal wranglers - is giving the WGA's strike plans a major boost with a show of solidarity that could seriously disrupt local production.

The leader of Teamsters Local 399 is advising members that they should honor WGA picket lines as long as they're acting as individuals. The Writers Guild of America could go on strike as early as Thursday; negotiations resume today at the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers offices.

In a message posted Monday, secretary-treasurer Leo Reed said Local 399 can't strike, picket or boycott a producer while its contract is in effect and must use its "best efforts" to get employees to perform. But Reed added that those restrictions don't apply to individuals. "As for me as an individual, I will not cross any picket line whether it is sanctioned or not because I firmly believe that Teamsters do not cross picket lines," Reed said in the message.

The move was not unexpected, as the Teamsters are the only Hollywood union with specific language allowing members to honor picket lines without reprisal from employers. Reed noted in the message that if Joint Council 42 of the Teamsters sanctions the WGA strike, the companies have agreed that they will not discipline any employee who refuses to cross. "Federal law protects you if you choose otherwise," Reed added. "Remember, I believe that Teamsters do not cross picket lines!"

Approval of a sanction for the WGA strike by Joint Council 42 -- parent to 23 Teamster locals in California and Nevada -- is expected to be a formality. It's unclear how many Teamsters will follow Reed's suggestion and refuse to cross WGA picket lines, but if many do, film and TV production could be hamstrung due to lack a transportation and location managers. And should casting directors not cross, the ability to make quick decisions on actors would be gummed up.

Strong support for the WGA emerged Sunday from the 300 members of Local 399 who attended a meeting at the Sportsmen's Lodge in Los Angeles.

In response, AMPTP president Nick Counter sent a letter to Reed and other leaders of the five Basic Crafts unions and reminded them of the "no strike" clause in their contract. The five unions signed a three-year deal this summer with the AMPTP.

"We expect each union to comply with this no-strike obligation and order your members to work," he added. "It is necessary to send you this reminder because of some misinformation and rumors which have been circulated."

Reed's announcement offers a stark contrast with guidance provided to members so far by the Screen Actors Guild and the Directors Guild of America -- with both guilds emphasizing that if the WGA strikes, SAG and DGA members have to keep working if they have a contract to do so. SAG urged members to join picket lines but noted that they should do so in their free time.

As for the negotiations, both sides have continually blamed each other for the lack of progress at the bargaining table over the past three months. In his most recent message to members, WGA West president Patric Verrone asserted that the AMPTP plan is to stall the talks until the final hours and then make a lowball offer.

"This sort of brinkmanship will likely be met by fear, confusion and even acrimony," he added. "All that is natural and expected. Therefore, we must be strong and steadfast in our convictions so that we convey the proper message to our employers, to our allies in the entertainment community, to the industry at large and to each other: That as much as we don't want a strike, we want a bad contract even less."

Verrone said the guild is planning a general membership meeting Thursday to provide updates on negotiations and the guild's options. And he warned members to be skeptical of any info that doesn't come from the WGA.

"In the days to come, there will be many rumors, lies and even threats that will come your way," he added. "There is a genuine climate of fear on both sides of this negotiation, and it is only natural that misinformation will spread.

"This used to be limited to word of mouth and the mainstream press but, like much in the 21st century, it has taken on a new form with the Internet. Know that we will not be able to keep up with (much less interfere with or attempt to influence) what is posted on blogs and bulletin boards, but we ask you to be discerning in drawing conclusions from those posts and from any source that is not affiliated with the WGA leadership, including the press."

The membership meeting has been set for 7 p.m. Thursday at the Los Angeles Convention Center.


Governator nixes anti-democratic, no-vote unionization law

The National Alliance for Worker and Employer Rights praises the good work of Governor Schwarzenegger who cast his of veto of SB. 180 on October 14. Governor Schwarzenegger showed great courage in standing up for Secret Ballot elections for farmers in the California workplace.

The Governor did not listen to the Labor lords who fought freedom through intimidation only to increase their membership by stripping secret ballot elections away. Rather, as Will Fine, executive director of the National Alliance for Worker and Employer Rights wrote in a letter to the Governor and other state legislators, that in this veto "you have heard the call of Californians affirming workers' rights will never be compromised to the labor mobs again."

The National Alliance for Worker and Employer Rights worked with the Governor and defenders of a free workplace to defeat SB.180 by reminding the politicians of farmers who work hard for their families, that their right to a secret ballot is always sacred whether they come to live or be born in this country. The Governor understood the needs of his people's freedoms stood above the "take away" politics of the unions was in the end his veto against card check.

By setting in place a "card-check" organizing process, SB 180 significantly changes the protections afforded to all of California's agricultural workers under the ALRA. This "card-check" process fundamentally alters an employee's right to a secret ballot election that currently affords them the opportunity to cast a ballot privately without fear of coercion or manipulation by any interested parties. This bill also limits the opportunity for employees to hear and consider other viewpoints on unionization.

Learn more about the work of the National Alliance for Worker and Employer Rights at http://www.freeworkplace.org.

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